My clients often have a specific number of words they need to fit a certain space. Magazine and newspaper editors also assign a certain number of words and may not work with you again if you don’t meet their requirements.
So while you’re spinning straw into gold (as I call turning raw notes into interesting reading), here are some tips for cutting words to meet your assigned word count:
- Write first, edit later. Write the detail you think needs to be included, then check your word count and edit as necessary. I sometimes check partway through the first draft to gauge how much detail I can include.
- Ditch most adjectives and adverbs, and use a stronger noun or verb instead. “He sat dejectedly” becomes “He slumped.”
- Eliminate prepositions, says Barbara Diggs, The Expat Freelancer. You can easily get rid of words like “of,” “in” and “at.” For example, “She preferred to stay at home.”
- Use contractions. “He’s” instead of “He is” saves a word, plus it sounds warmer.
- Remove weak filler words, like “very,” “really” and “the fact that,” says BitesizeBio’s Kristin Harper.
- Look for places you have said the same thing in different ways. Only keep the best one.
- Get rid of “that.” It’s “sometimes so superfluous that it can easily be gotten rid of,” says Devyani Borade on Writing-World.com.
- Use the active voice rather than the passive voice. “The leader is spotlighting the issue” rather than “The issue is being spotlighted by the leader.”
- Eliminate redundant words and passages, says freelance writer Jesse Hines. He gives examples like “The armed gunman” and “Past history.”
- Suggest a sidebar — a short article beside the main one that includes additional details that are interesting but not essential to the story. For a piece for Niagara Escarpment Views magazine about community gardens, I included a sidebar for the curious about the typical items grown.
- If the article includes a photo, use the caption to include interesting information edited out in #1.
What other tips do you have for trimming (or slashing!) a lengthy article? Please share in the comments.